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Thursday, January 1, 2009

Memorial Ceremony for Wing Commander Charles Learmonth DFC and Bar

On 8th December 2008, a memorial ceremony for Wing Commander Charles Learmonth DFC and Bar was held at RAAF Base Learmonth. Relatives attending included John Learmonth from UK, and Charles Learmonth’s niece Kathy Baulch, and nephew John Baulch, both from Victoria. The gathering included an RAAF contingent, Army, RSL, the Shire President, CEO, Councillors, and people from the Shire. Guests arrived to the strains of Andre Rieu’s emotive recording of Waltzing Matilda.

The ceremony was held at the Memorial Cairn at the north end of the runway, and was ably supported by the base caretaker, Flight Sergeant Les Johnston, who also acted as MC. The memorial was first dedicated in 1972, by Charles Learmonth’s widow, Marjorie Le Souef. The couple met in 1940, while Charles was based at RAAF Pearce. Marjorie joined up as a VAD nurse, and was due to be posted overseas, but Pearl Harbor changed all that, and the couple married in March 1942. A few months later, Charles was posted to New Guinea.

In a moving and emotional ceremony, retired airline pilot Charles Page said, “It’s now forty one years since I landed an MMA DC3 at Learmonth. Since then I have flown overhead many times in 707s or 747s, but only recently, did I learn why the airfield was so named. Charles Learmonth flew in the air search for HMAS Sydney, fought in the New Guinea air war, the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, and was killed in a tragic Beaufort accident near Rottnest Island in 1944. He inspired great loyalty, and it has been a privilege to write his story.” Charles Page is the author of Wings of Destiny, a biography of the famous WWII flyer.

In his address to the gathering, Wing Commander Murray described Charles Learmonth as a true hero. His views were echoed by Exmouth Shire President, Veronica Fleay, who made a gracious speech, and quoted from a eulogy by Air Marshal Sir Valston Hancock, and a letter by Korean War ace, Group Captain Les Reading. John Learmonth spoke eloquently of Charles Learmonth, and gave some readings from Wings of Destiny, while John Baulch told the gathering of his family’s pride in the memory of Charles Learmonth. The Reverend Alan McMahon then gave a moving recital of the aviator’s poem “High Flight”, after which the ‘Evening Hymn’, ‘Last Post’, and ‘Sunset’ were played. The ceremony concluded with wreath laying and a stirring flypast by Norwest Air Work.

The Learmonth relatives then made a memorial flight over the airfield, and around the North-West Cape. After returning to Perth, they visited the Aviation Heritage Museum at Bull Creek, which has a display and memorial to Charles Learmonth. The Learmonth relatives wish to thank the RAAF, Flight Sergeant Johnston, and the Shire of Exmouth for making their visit so special.